New Project - Hunting the Higgs

>> Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 29, 2010. Within a few hours, while you sleep soundly, the most energetic particle collisions ever produced by humans will occur half-way around the world. Scheduled for the morning of March 30,2010, Geneva time, two beams of protons each at an energy of 3.5 trillion electron volts will be directed to slam head on into each other at about 99.99999999 percent of the speed of light. And Science on UCSDTV is there, following along with UCSD Professor of Physics Vivek Sharma and one of his graduate students, Matt LeBourgeois. While Vivek is half-way around the world at CERN, he is only one of 24 UCSD physicists, including Frank Weurthwein, who are working on the project.

Vivek is the Director of Higgs Research for the CMS detector on the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider. That means he coordinates a huge international team of the world's top physicists, researchers and technicians to conduct a search for the only fundamental particle in the standard model of particle physics that has not yet been detected. It is often referred to as 'the god particle'. Why? It is postulated that this 'god particle' - less poetically the Higgs Boson, is the particle that confers the property of mass to everything - from fundamental particles like quarks on up to you and me, and, well, everything. It also has all sorts of other implications we'll get into as this project evolves.

So, what is the CMS you ask? Steel yourself for an anagram-a-palooza rivaled only by the likes of NASA. The CMS is The Compact Muon Solenoid. That will be explained in later posts - but essentially it is a 100 million channel "camera" that can output "pictures" or record events on the order of fractions of microseconds, a bit faster than your digital snippy-snap, as innumerable fundamental particles spray off of innumerable proton collisions occurring each fraction of a fraction of a second.

Here's a sneak preview of some early footage for the project we recorded using remote connectivity with VoIP, iPhones, laptops and home video cameras.

You'll never see the CMS Center this quiet after March 30,2010

And even more cool, you can follow the status of the CMS detector, the LHC, and see photos of the CMS, here. And when they have the data - images of the most energetic particle collisions ever created.

Here's a little bit of information on what you might see on one of the pages. I'm still working on getting it figured out, and it's kind of fun to explore. We'll take it slowly so we don't get paralyzed by alien information overload. On the LHC status page you'll sometimes see three values across the top: Energy, I(B1) in blue and I(B2) in red. Energy is how energetic each beam is. And I is intensity of each beam. So when you see 3500GeV for energy, that's 3.5 Trillion Electron Volts - the most energetic beams ever created. When the two 3.5TeV beams collide, that's 7TeV put into that collision, enough to blast protons and hopefully top quarks apart into their many varied constituent fundamental particles - and as is hoped and envisioned, we'll see the telltale signature of the Higgs Boson.

Now don't despair if all this rarefied physics is confusing. It is, but only because it's new. Hey, I'm right along with you on this. If you don't know what the words LHC, Higgs or CERN mean, stay with UCSD Science blog and we'll be working to get you up to speed on what could, and should, prove to be a watershed in our understanding of well, in a way....everything. Pretty soon this will all be as familiar as air and water.


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